By Adam Kolton
For The Cordova Times
Like so many Americans, we at Alaska Wilderness League are sickened and outraged over the recent violence against George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade. These acts of racism, of police brutality and hatred must come to an end.
Addressing the reality of our country’s enormous failings in the areas of race relations and equality is challenging, and it would be easy to duck responsibility and ‘stay in our lane’ of wilderness and public lands protection. But there comes a time when silence is to be complicit with racism and oppression.
A serious dialogue and inspired leadership are needed at every level, to change the structures that have resulted in the deaths of countless Black Americans. It is needed to confront the systemic racism that has created stark racial disparities in everything from education, to health care, to access to the outdoors.
According to a 2018 National Park Service survey, more than three-quarters of visitors to national parks are white and members of minority communities often report feeling unwelcome or unsafe in outdoor spaces. Last week’s harassment of birder Christian Cooper in New York’s Central Park, following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery while out jogging in late February in Georgia, are just the latest reminders that Americans’ experiences in the outdoors vary wildly depending on the color of their skin.
Edward Abbey once wrote, “wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.”
Equal access to wilderness in today’s America should be a priority for us all. Alaska Wilderness League is committed to protecting our public lands and waters and to ensuring that everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, is free to enjoy outdoor spaces. But until Black Americans feel safe in their own homes, their cars or on a city sidewalk, realizing equality in the outdoors will also remain elusive.
Adam Kolton is executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.